I know that it’s still early, and at this point anything can happen, but in spite of Fred’s slight bump in the polls in SC after the last debate, it’s still a two way race between McCain and Huck. Last night on BlogTalkRadio we were talking about the Thompson campaign, analyzing what went wrong and speculating as to whether or not things could turn around for the campaign.
I know a lot of conservatives were stoked when they first heard Fred Thompson was considering running for president. The top tier of Rudy, McCain, and Romney were (and are) found to be uninspiring, hard-to-support candidates – Rudy because of his liberal views on many issues, McCain because of the illegal immigration issue, McCain Feingold, and other issues, and Romney because he reminds people of a flashy used car salesman. After getting beaten in 2006, conservatives were looking for a guy they could really rally around, a guy who would pump them up and make them enthusiastic about the race and looked to Fred. When he announced his candidacy, there was a lot of excitement in the air. But over time, though, many of the Fred supporters I’ve talked to have grown frustrated with Fred because they feel/felt more enthusiasm about his candidacy than he appears to.
I think Fred’s first mistake was not jumping into the race in the middle of the summer. At that time, Fredmania was smokin’ hot in the conservative blogosphere, and conservative publications were buzzing about the possible implications of a Fred run, and how it would change the dynamics of the race. If he’d have jumped into it in the summer, he could have raised megabucks, IMO, because people really were excited about him. He could have capitalized on that and gone far with it. But by the time he got into the race, which was in early September, people had had time to examine his record and speculate about him a bit, and some of the enthusiasm started to fall off. And over the course of the next three months, Fred’s campaign took a serious nosedive. Some would say that that happened because the media doesn’t like Fred Thompson too much, or that maybe he has an incompetent campaign staff. But quite honestly, Fred’s campaign staff have worked harder on his campaign than he has. If people were to go by solely what his campaign staff had said and done for him, Fred would be polling in the top spot in every Republican poll out there.
And therein lies the crux of the problem with Fred’s campaign, and it’s one I saw from the start: Fred Thompson was a candidate who was drafted to run for pres. He didn’t just wake up one day and decide he wanted to be president. Some people might find that refreshing, that he didn’t start off with the ambition to be president and thus didn’t work for years to “prime” himself for a run, but in my personal opinion, I think that’s a negative, because when it comes to presidential elections, I don’t want someone who has to be drafted by supporters to join the race. I want someone who wants to be in and who doesn’t hesitate when the time comes to say “I’m ready, let’s do this.”
Beyond having to be drafted by supporters to throw his hat into the ring, he’s come across poorly in speeches and public appearances, and interviews on news programs. He just doesn’t appear to be as passionate and committed to winning as you’d expect a presidential candidate to be. Sometimes it’s like he’s phoning it in. I read about one speech he made a couple of months ago to a group of supporters where he had to ask them to applaud his speech. That’s bad. In media interviews, he comes across as hostile. And as much as I distrust the mediots, you can’t treat them as your enemy when you’re a candidate for public office.
This is disappointing on so many fronts, because conservatives were looking to Fred as sort of a ‘leader’ for the party, but he just hasn’t delivered. He’s got good ideas, but he doesn’t have the enthusiasm, and that’s a serious negative.
I know some people who have said “who cares about charm and charisma? Ideas are good enough for me.” As I said on the BTR show tonight, that’s idealistic but not realistic. When you’ve got the possiblity of having a charismatic figure like Obama as your opponent, you need to be able to excude at least a fourth of that charm in addition to your great ideas, if you want any chance to appeal to mainstream voters. Voters don’t just want someone with good ideas. They want someone they can like and relate to. Fred has never come across as that type of candidate to me.
He’s not going to win SC this weekend, and I predict that if he doesn’t drop out of the race before Florida (where he is polling very poorly), he will drop out shortly thereafter, and quickly announce his support for someone he became friends with when they were both in the Senate: John McCain.
That’s another thing I’m not sure many Fred supporters have looked deeply into, and that’s that the guy they like the least in the GOP race is the one who is probably liked the most by Fred. Fred backed John McCain for president in 2000 and was McCain’s national co-chair. He played a key role in getting McCain Fiengold passed, and his immigration record in the Senate is not unlike McCain’s. So when it comes to Senate records, Fred Thompson isn’t all that different from John McCain. He may be a little different now that he’s running for president, but it hasn’t always been that way.
I’m not saying all this to dis or throw cold water on the Thompson campaign. I like Fred Thompson, and he’s got a lot of good solid conservative ideas. But his candidacy is going nowhere fast and I don’t see that changing after this weekend.
In related Campaign 2008 news, the latest Las Vegas Review-Journal polling for Nevada shows Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney with comfortable leads going into tomorrow’s caucuses.